I’m currently teaching a course at BTS on the books of Samuel and Kings. One of the assignments is to write a blog about a controversial passage in these two books. This one is written by MDiv student Peter Lyon, who chose to write about Jehu (the subject of my dissertation: Righteous Jehu).
When one hears a story about a man ordering 70 young princes to be decapitated, and then hears of that same man stacking those heads in two large piles at the entrance to the city gate, it would be natural to assume that the man in question is the villain of the story. In 2 Kings chapter 10 however, the text presents the perpetrator of these gruesome acts, Jehu, as the hero – the man carrying out God’s justice on the evil heirs of Ahab and Jezebel.
How did we get here? Ahab and Jezebel are the most notorious villains of the book of Kings – unrepentant idolaters, barbarously brutal, and viscously greedy – after witnessing their acts of evil it is only natural to wish for their righteous judgement. The prophet Elisha anoints Jehu, commander in the army, King over Israel and commissions him saying:
“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I anoint you king over the Lord’s people, Israel. 7 You are to destroy the family of Ahab, your master. In this way, I will avenge the murder of my prophets and all the Lord’s servants who were killed by Jezebel. 8 The entire family of Ahab must be wiped out. I will destroy every one of his male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel. ” 2 Kings 9:6b-8
Jehu carries this judgement out swiftly. He kills the king in his chariot, and has Jezebel thrown from a window. He has the princes decapitated, and stacks their heads as a message to the people. He then deceives the prophets of Ba’al into gathering all together and has them executed without exception. And how did the Lord respond to this rampant slaughter?
…the Lord said to Jehu, “You have done well in following my instructions to destroy the family of Ahab. Therefore, your descendants will be kings of Israel down to the fourth generation.” 2 Kings 10:30
Needless to say, this passage of Scripture is not flannelgraph material, I do not expect the Children’s Minister at my church to be lesson planning this one for the kids. I find it difficult myself for a number of reasons:
Generational Judgment: it makes me uncomfortable when children are punished for the crimes of their parents. Or the idea that four generations of Jehu’s descendants will rule as a reward for his obedience.
Imperfect Judge: Jehu was a witness to Ahab’s evil up until this point and had done nothing. And when he is called to act as judge, he uses violence and deceit. Is lying and killing acceptable in the service of God? When are we allowed to break commandments?
Judgment Contextualized: Now none of this is particularly strange or brutal for the time period it is occurring in. In the ancient world, if one is assuming the throne by force, it is only natural to eliminate all those who have a “right” to the throne by birth. Would I be as uncomfortable with the way in which God’s justice was enacted if I lived then instead of now? Most likely, no, this would not have been as strange to me then, but does that ease the discomfort of my 21st century self?
I have chosen the word uncomfortable a lot here instead of something stronger because I stand firmly in the understanding that all have sinned, and the wages of sin is death. Perhaps how those wages are paid out is immaterial, but how do we reconcile this picture of obedience with the obedience we are called to live out?